Despite the recent scandal that has crept into Happy Valley, I think every sports enthusiast can respect the plain, unnamed uniforms worn by the Penn State football team. If you think the white and navy jerseys are boring, you can, at least, appreciate the reason behind the bare fabric. “It’s not the name on the back that matters, it’s the one on the front!”
This is a slogan that I have lived by during my athletic career. But, after getting married two years ago, I was faced with a decision about what name to put on the back of my shirt. Every time someone would pop the questions, they got my usual answer, “I really don’t care.” For me, I never stepped on the field thinking about what the back of my jersey said or what name appeared in the program. It wasn’t about me!
I watched Joe Paterno’s memorial service on television a week after his death. Some critics thought it was too much for a man that got associated with someone else’s horrific crime. But, for those people that watched that service or attended his funeral, you couldn’t deny the fact that he had an enormously positive impact on so many of his players’ lives. And because of that, it made me think…did he have that same impact on my father?
If you ask my dad, he would not give Joe all the credit for his hard work ethic or his understanding of team before self, but for sure, he would get some. I would guess that he would also give credit to the assistant coaches, his family and other mentors in his life.
If you ask me the same question, the first name that would leave my lips would simply be, my Dad. He is one of the most humbled, hardworking human beings that I have met to date.
In fact, growing up, I would not have known that my dad was a successful football player if it weren’t for the life-sized portrait hanging in our hometown school or the random books that people sent to our house for him to sign.
My Dad lives in the present, not the past. He gets up early, goes to work and stays until his job is finished, even if it means after hours. When he gets home, he has dinner with my Mom and on most nights, they head to a sporting event to support a grandchild or a local team.
He has never wanted the spotlight and never accepted full credit for anything. I did not know him in his football days. But, I predict his athletic mentality simply by knowing him today. I can tell you that he works everyday for his company, not solely to support our family but more importantly because he wants to help the company’s productivity and profitability. He is honest, straightforward, leads by example and only speaks out when he has something important to convey.
Knowing what I know about my father, I can also guesstimate that he would never care what name appears on the back of my jersey.
So, when asked again this year, “what name I want on the back of the uniform,” I hesitated, stuttered and eventually knew that I needed to give an answer. I pondered for a little about my options. I could remain with just ‘Smith’ or keep my maiden name and add the married name. And, my last option would be just a simple P-u-z-o.
The truth is, I could honestly careless. Yet, I still needed to produce an answer. So, like any wife/mother would, I thought of my husband and our children, Xavi Puzo and Ian Puzo. And, in those two things, I found my answer. And, that’s just how my Dad and Mom would want it!
Until Next Time…
Keli Smith Puzo is a two-time Olympic Field Hockey player, Wife to Inako Puzo, head coach at Miami University, Mother of two young boys and your everyday kind of gal trying to keep it all together.